Are Buddhsist Racist

Read my one & only interview in the New Statesman

What is Racism?


Race can be defined as:

"A classification system used to categorise humans into distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.”


Racism can be defined as:

“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”


When a group of people are labeled according to a certain religious belief or affiliation and their access to public services, jobs, livelihoods and social freedoms are denied or restricted on the basis of this belief or affiliation this is racism.

The Seeds of Discontent

Whilst coverage of the issues raised by this controversy focusses exclusively on persecution within the Tibetan diaspora there is another, more hidden aspect which simmers away in the background. Within the exile leadership itself there is very real discontent about the way the situation is unfolding and the risks it poses to the future of their movement.

Despite the Dalai Lama's claims to have retired from politics in 2011 the reality is that he is still very much in charge. Coinciding with his 'retirement' the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile was amended to state that he would remain the "Supreme Leader", and "the voice of the Tibetan people".

His actual retirement was from the day to day routine politics of the exile government, a role which he had already ceased to be involved with to any meaningful degree for years prior to 2011. Meanwhile he has remained firmly in control of the main issues and key policies that he created, including especially the policies relating to Shugden Buddhists.

The main difficulty which had been facing the exile leadership as the Dalai Lama approaches his 80th birthday is how they can continue to maintain any reasonable level of public awareness of their existence after he dies. Although the practice of using his persona to promote their agenda has worked, it is dependent entirely upon his public reputation, and of course that he keeps living.

The scenario the exile leadership has to contend with is that if he were to pass away the public face of the movement would then become Dr Lobsang Sangay, a remarkably little known and uncharismatic politician. If you think the Dalai Lama has difficulty in persuading politicians to meet him on his travels now you can imagine the mammoth task Dr Sangay would face on his own.

For the time being the prospect of the Dalia Lama's passing, although unsavory for some to contemplate, does cause the Tibetan leadership some considerable concerns. They are under mounting pressure to achieve a breakthrough in diplomatic relations with China as every month passes. This explains not only their newly invigorated push for the "middle way approach" but it also explains why the Dalai Lama has been traveling so frequently to Western countries trying in vain to gather as much political backing as possible.

For the past year the CTA has also faced a growing public backlash against its policies of discrimination and suppression of Shugden Buddhists in the diaspora. Especially since early 2014 there has been a growing interest in this issue which has now broken through into mainstream Western media. In addition to the possibility of the Dalai Lama's untimely death the CTA now also faces the possibility that his reputation and popularity may die first.

Previously the CTA relied on the Dalai Lama's press team to discredit the protesters by falsely claiming they were fanatics, or brainwashed cult members, yet the International Shugden Community (ISC) has steadily worked through this inaccurate portrayal of them. Their credibility is now so strong that in February this year FOX news carried a live interview with an ISC spokesperson outside the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC and Danish national radio broadcast a live debate on the issue which included three MPs alongside another ISC spokesperson.

Combined together all of these factors have caused a growing division behind the doors of the CTA. There are two camps within the exile leadership, those who are committed to the Dalai Lama's stance towards Shugden Buddhists, and those who fear it will cause them to lose all credibility in the eyes of the media.

According to one source some people believe that the Dalai Lama has now gone too far. They feel that while they could support his policies before, they are now too much of a risk and threaten their own future dealings with China.

Pretty much all of the exile leadership have given up hope of securing anything approaching an independent Tibet, instead opting to support a form of autonomous rule, which they hope will allow them to develop some form of pseudo independence. Ironically the same pragmatism that has given rise to this acceptance now also looks unfavorably on the Dalai Lama's inflexibility towards Shugden Buddhists.

For almost 20 years the Dalai Lama has tried to wipe out this practice within the diaspora but Tibetans are notoriously stubborn, especially when it comes to religion. Despite all of the measures taken so far there is no sign that the controversy will go away. If anything it seems to be increasing.

The frustration some senior members of the exile leadership have is that the Dalai Lama seems unwilling to show any degree of compromise. Whilst he may be coming to the end of his time as political leader of the Tibetans they are faced with the challenges of taking up the reins in his absence. As a consequence they seem increasingly concerned that if their treatment of Shugden Buddhists becomes widely known in the mainstream media they will have an almost impossible task ahead of them.

Should the Dalai Lama's current reputation be tarnished or destroyed in the media through the protests they know only too well that they will simply disappear from the radar. Although NGO's will still be promoting their cause, without the Dalai Lama's good reputation they know they will attract little attention on both public and political levels.

Whilst there are political figures waiting in the wings for their moment in the limelight they are seriously concerned that by the time they are on stage the lights will have dimmed and they will face an empty house.

On the surface the controversy may seem to demonstrate a schism within the Tibetan Buddhist community, yet behind the scenes the division within the power structures is also growing. The question isn't whether the Dalai Lama's reputation can withstand another year of protests, it is whether his ability to control the exile leadership can withstand it. With every series of protests he faces a harder job of trying to maintain his position.

Although no-one within the CTA would publicly admit to being against him on any issue there are several senior members who are quietly voicing ever growing concerns about the Shugden issue. Just how it will resolve itself is unclear. The Dalai Lama refuses to compromise but at the same time there are those who fear that without a compromise they will only inherit a poisoned chalice.

Either way the Chinese authorities are happy to sit back and wait, knowing that as the conflict rages in public and private their position only grows stronger. As the exile leadership begins to resemble an Orwellian Animal Farm collapsing in on itself they only have to sit back and enjoy the show.


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